The adorable Zarion Leonard is confident-as-can-be when she performs her African dance routine, but she first had to overcome her stage fright! Leonard says, “It feels great, like it feels, I just overcome my fear. When it was my first time performing, it just felt great.”
Leonard participates in the Young Audiences after-school program, which serves ten schools and one community center in and around New Orleans. At no cost to the family, kids are given tutoring, snacks and professional lessons in a wide range of the arts for 2 ½ hours each day after school. It’s comprised primarily of low-income families, with 90% of students in free or reduced lunch programs.
Director Jon Cosper says it gives access to professional instruction they wouldn’t otherwise have. “Most of our kids can’t afford to take private dance lessons so we give these to these students for free and we give them the most professional and most prestigious teachers to come in and teach them their craft for those 2 hours and 30 minutes after school.”
There’s no GPA requirement for the program, but there’s a strong focus on academics. In fact they often work the arts right into the classroom! For example, when the children are learning the multiplication tables, they may do them to dance. Leonard explains, “Our teacher wants us to learn by 4’s, 3’s, 2’s, 1’s so we can learn how to multiply and stuff.”
The approach seems to be working. The program was awarded an exemplary grade from the Department of Education for the GPA increase in participating schools. Cosper says, “Every child in our program compared to the students outside the program performed higher than their peers.”
This Thursday, kids will be showing just how much they’ve learned as they take the stage at the Mahalia Jackson Theater. The 5th Annual Winter Spotlight will showcase 500 students from Young Audiences, performing a variety of acts. It’s a chance to prove that the dedication of artistic professionals in our community and in the classroom can have a major impact on the lives of our children.
Doors open at 6:30 pm. The show is free and open to the public